2023 Biological Sciences Newsletter

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Message From the Chair

Damien O'Halloran

Greetings to all of our alumni from the George Washington University Department of Biological Sciences!

I am excited to introduce you all to some new people in our department: Dr. Sarah Leinwand is a neurogeneticist and new faculty member that studies the neural basis of behavior; Dr. Aidan Manubay is a new teaching faculty member that oversees the introductory biology lectures and labs; and Dr. Thiago da Silva Moreira is a new faculty member that teaches courses in evolution for our department and also the honors program on the Mount Vernon campus.

Through this newsletter, you’ll read about a few of the exciting things happening in the department, including the achievements of our biology community. Thank you so much for your support and involvement. Please stay in touch.

Damien O'Halloran
Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

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Department Spotlights

Salamander Species Shed Evolutionary Light

Three new black-bellied salamanders once thought to be a single species were discovered in the southern Appalachian Mountains by a research team led by biology’s R. Alexander Pyron, the Robert F. Griggs Associate Professor of Biology. The new salamanders, which are found in the southern Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States, stem from black-bellied populations that were long considered to be a single species. The discovery was featured in the CCAS Spotlight newsmagazine.

Taking Butterfly Wings to New Heights

Dr. Anyi Mazo-Vargas and Dr. Arnaud Martin published a groundbreaking cover article in Science on the developmental biology of butterfly wing patterns. The pair used comparative sequence analysis and ATAC-seq (assay for transposase-accessible chromatin using sequencing) to uncover the deep cis-regulatory homology of the butterfly wing pattern ground plan.

The authors identified CREs (cis-regulatory elements) that control WntA expression in five different Nymphalidae species. Many of the candidate CREs are located immediately upstream of the WntA gene and in the first intron.

Mazo-Vargas and Martin found that some of these candidates show sequence similarity among nymphalid butterflies, implying that the candidates were present in their last common ancestor, whereas other candidates evolved recently.

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Department Kudos

Keryn Gedan received a $53,034 grant from the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agroecology to study restoration options for salt-damaged agricultural land in the Chesapeake Bay. She was also quoted by Circle of Blue: Where Water Speaks in the article “‘Fighting for Inches’ in the Southeast’s Struggle With Salt.

Leon Grayfer received a $415,550 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)  to examine how subsets of frog cells contribute to susceptibility to the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis

Sandy Kawano was quoted by Defector in the article “New Fossil Fish Flirted With The Idea Of Legs But Kept On Swimming.”

John Lill spoke to WUSA-CBS9 about whether cold weather kills mosquitoes.

Arnaud Martin received a $655,390 grant from NSF to examine the molecular, developmental and functional basis of silk across a diversity of uses.

R. Alexander Pyron was quoted by Science in the article “Secrets of Tibet’s hot-spring snakes revealed’’ and by Newsweek in the article “Have Burmese Pythons Expanded Their Range in Florida?” His research was featured by Science Daily in the article “Three new species of black-bellied salamander found in southern Appalachian Mountains.” 

Senior Rachel Rohrich was featured in the Washington City Paper article “Becoming Ballet: Introducing the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company.’’

Tara Scully was quoted by CNN in the article “Composting has some benefit to the environment, if done right. Here's how.’’

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Alumni Class Notes

  • Sehtab Ahmad, BA ’16, is doing buy side private equity advisory/strategy work and will attend Georgetown Law in the fall.
  • Ryan Barnette, BS ’06, is living in Los Angeles where he practices intensive care medicine and anesthesiology.
  • Colleen Cagno, BS ’96, MD ’00, had an excellent education and exposure to research in developmental biology that prepared her for success in medical school and in her career caring for newborns and pregnant people.
  • Glenn Chrystal, MS ’76, MS, ’78, MD ’83, is a medical director at Radiation Oncology Cone Health Alamance Regional Medical Center Burlington, N.C. He is married to Amy Shearer, a fellow graduate of the GW School of Education, 1979.
  • Victoria Costa, BA ’13, MD ’17, is assistant medical director of the Blood Bank at North Shore University Hospital/ Northwell Health in Long Island, N.Y.
  • Golsa Eftekhar, BA ’03, BS ’03, has fond memories of being a student at GW. She enjoyed every day being on campus and learning new things. Time flew by so fast.
  • Yesenia Flores, BS ’14, joined Waymo LLC as regulatory counsel.
  • William Giasi, BS ’97, MD ’03, worked on microarrays at the National Institutes of Health for a year before returning to GW for medical school. He completed his pediatric training at Children's National Medical Center and has been actively practicing Pediatrics in Princeton, N.J., since 2007.
  • Richard Giudice, BA ’74, retired from his private hematology/oncology practice. He lived and practiced in Albuquerque for 30 years and now lives in San Diego with his wife Vivian.
  • Daniel Halsted, BA ’21, following a brief stint as a teacher, is now a senior research associate for KITE pharma in Santa Monica, Calif. He finds great joy in his work and is dedicated to eradicating cancer.
  • Steven Handler, BS ’86, is a staff radiologist at the 355th Medical Group Davis Monthan AFB Tucson, Ariz.
  • Guy Helman, BS ’13, is a pediatrics resident at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
  • Amir Jahangir, BS ’99, led Nashville's COVID-19 Taskforce. His book, Hotspot: A Doctor's Diary From the Pandemic, was published by VU Press chronicling his and the Task Force's efforts to protect the city and its people throughout the pandemic. He was profiled in GW Today.
  • Michael Kressner, BS ’73, sends his congratulations to the Class of 1973, 50 years after graduation.
  • Jesse Kristin, BA ’07, was featured in The Washington Post along with other GW graduates for their band Jukebox the Ghost, which they founded as GW undergraduates.
  • Chris Ng-Fletcher, BS ’18, works at Canada Health Infoway, a Pan-Canadian Health Care Organization focused on interoperability and patient access to their health information. He is also involved in a family physician practice.
  • Jorge Oliver, BA ’83, is dean of the School of Art at Pratt Institute. He co-produced Santos - Skin to Skin, a documentary on Latin Jazz legend John Santos, which premiered at South by Southwest.
  • Lauren Peterson, BS ’06, JD ’09, joined Polsinelli PC as a founding member of the firm's new International Trade Commission Section 337 Litigation and Trade Remedies practice group. She is based in D.C., still in close proximity to Foggy Bottom.
  • Caroline Reynolds, BS‘18, is in the second year of her PhD program in neuroscience at Tufts University. She is studying how the brain sends signals to the immune system during Alzheimer's disease pathology.